It’s like trivia night on steroids. It’s like “Jeopardy!” without categories. It’s like all the teachers got together and created a monster of a test including every possible topic from chemistry, to history, to literature and astronomy – so what’s your answer?
It’s Knowledge Bowl, and Dave Jackson’s Lewis and Clark High School classroom was crammed with students getting in one last practice round before they headed to the Washington State Knowledge Bowl Competition at Hanford High School in Richland last Saturday.
The students have one goal on this day: to beat the team of teachers, just like they did last time.
“They were pretty excited about winning over the teachers last time,” said Jackson, a business teacher who has coordinated Lewis and Clark’s Knowledge Bowl teams for 10 years.
The rules are simple: a question is read out loud and as soon as one of the student teams agrees on an answer, they hit a buzzer. If they are right, they get a point; if they are wrong, the team that buzzed in second gets to answer.
“You don’t lose points for wrong answers – you just move on,” Jackson said as the students were getting ready.
And off they went – starting with Shakespeare, followed by math, poetry and a biology question.
There are four students on each team, plus two alternates.
“We all get along, I mean, it’s not like we are hypercompetitive,” said Hana Alicic, 17 and a senior. She’s the captain of one of the teams.
“We have to all agree on the answer before we hit the buzzer and that can be tricky,” she said.
Nels Everson, 16 and a junior, said a big part of the competition is tactics.
“The joke this year is to say either ‘France’ or ‘Eleanor Roosevelt’ if you aren’t exactly sure,” he said. “Sometimes they reuse the question and we recognize it. That makes it easier.” He added that sometimes it’s better to wait for another team to attempt an answer before buzzing.
“If they are wrong, then you have a better chance if you aren’t sure what the answer is,” he said.
Math questions are a little different.
“You really can’t anticipate the answer for a math question if you haven’t heard the whole question,” said Alicic. “You’ve got to wait and hear the whole thing.”
On Thursday, as the questions flew, the teachers were off to a slow start, watching the students rack up point after point.
“I can’t believe some of the answers the students know,” Jackson said. “I’m thinking to myself, how on earth can they know that? What do their parents feed them?”
Alicic said it’s a myth that Knowledge Bowl students go home and memorize all this stuff.
Everson agrees: “We do read and we do pay attention – and maybe we are just more curious? I don’t know.”
Student teacher Andrew Joseph Blumel is helping Jackson this year. “I was on the debate team and yes, I do like trivia,” he said.
Blumel is in grad school, and he brought a friend who’s at the top of his class in medical school at the University of Washington to one of the practice sessions, thinking that between the two of them there wasn’t a question they couldn’t answer. He was wrong.
“The students totally kicked our butt,” Blumel said, laughing.
At the end of this practice round, team C won with 16 points – the teachers racked up 13.
“Mostly, it is fun,” said Alicic, “that’s the main reason why we do it.”